Astral Convertible (Reimagined)

Documentation of the performance


Choreography Trisha Brown, restaged by Kathleen Fisher

Generative Music Score John Toenjes

Sensor Design and Construction John Toenjes, Ken Beck, Beth Martell

AI Programming Mary Pietrowicz

Additional Programming John Toenjes

Set Design Regina Garcia

Lighting Laura Wilder

Interactive Projections Alex Betts

Costumes Ann DeVelder

Dancers Dancers of the UIUC Department of Dance


John Toenjes was commissioned to create a new interactive system for restaging Trisha Brown’s Astral Convertible for the U of Illinois Department of Dance. The original c. 1990 set was comprised of separate units that made noise and lit up when dancers passed by. His update envisioned an "environmental theater" for the Web 2.0 era, where the dancers and the set were intimately, yet unobtrusively connected, influencing each other in subtle and not necessarily observable ways similar to the way our natural environment responds to our human activities. He designed and fabricated wireless sensors, which, sewn into the dancers' costumes and tracked and analyzed by Artificial Intelligence software, integrated them into a “community of movers.” The AI programming analyzed the dancers’ collective motions, and interpreted this data in terms of socialization. A discordant community was then reflected as dissonant harmony and jagged rhythms in the generative music, a more harmonious community in smoother tones and rhythms. The set pieces all responded as one unit via an integrated wireless system, the lights and sound-making devices all functioning together according to the analysis. Toenjes designed this set to respond in a way more akin to reality, where actions of a community may unwittingly influence its environment.

As part of this effort, Toenjes brought in Thecla Schiphorst for some workshops in moving with sensors. Conversations with Schiphorst inspired the idea of using Laban Movement Analysis as a framework for computer analysis of gesture, which eventually led to the "Moving Stories" project, on which Toenjes was a co-investigator.

This set also eventually became an interactive installation at the Krannert Art Museum, from 2010-12.

The custom wireless sensors worn by the dancers in Astral Convertible, consisting of a 5-degrees-of-freedom sensor attached to an Arduino prototype board (removable for updates), an xBee wireless modem, and a lithium battery.

Photos of the Astral Convertible (Reimagined) stage set